Review: Block 46, by Johanna Gustawsson, translated Maxim Jakobowski

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In Falkenberg, Sweden, the mutilated body of talented young jewelry designer Linnea Blix is found in a snow-swept marina. In Hampstead Heath, London, the body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s. Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Hebner will do anything to see himself as a human again. Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald? Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French true-crime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light. 

Paperback, 300 pages
Published October 1st 2017 by Orenda Books (first published February 5th 2017)
ISBN13: 9781910633700
Emily Roy & Alexis Castells #1

My Review

Last year I reviewed Blood Song, the third book in the Emily Roy & Alexis Castells series. It was so good that I ordered the first two and I’ve just read them so I’m reviewing both, but in separate posts. Today it is book 1, Block 46. Tomorrow I will review Keeper.

This was a rather fantastic novel, linking events in Buchenwald Concentration Camp (where the author’s grandfather had been a prisoner for being a French Communist?/Resistance member) and murders in modern Falkenburg, Sweden and London, UK.

The main characters are introduced, although it is clear they have a past relationship and complex personal histories. Their backgrounds and personalities are slowly revealed. Emily Roy could be an unsympathetic character but for the pieces of vulnerability Gustawsson reveals in the narrative. I wasn’t sure about Alexis Castells, she seemed very self-involved, although that changed as I read, again her past was revealed in little bites that made her more understandable. They are both very complex, slightly damaged characters.

The plot was sufficiently twisted that I didn’t see the truth coming, even though the clues were there, looking back. I enjoyed the way the life of the criminals and the investigation intertwined throughout the novel, shifting between perspectives and giving clues to the reader while still hiding the truth. It didn’t feel contrived that a writer and a profiler would know each other or become involved in the investigation (even if I personally have reservations about the scientific validity of profiling) or that they would both end up in Sweden.

It was fascinating to learn about the Buchenwald Camp via fiction, I didn’t know that the prisoners and International Resistance had cached weapons and fought the SS as the Allied Forces got closer to them. I wonder how many SS officers escaped by pretending to be prisoners? *shudder*

Not having read the original novel, because my French is not great and Swedish non-existent, I can’t comment on the translation’s fidelity, but Karen Sullivan, who runs Orenda Books, wouldn’t allow a dodgy translation so I’m going to run with it being accurate.

I highly recommend this book, and the series actually, Also, the publisher, who is an absolute delight.

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